Flashback Friday: Bart’s Pioneer Motor Service

Gordon Lowe reflects on the life and times of Cecil Barton Haigh, a true pioneer in the Australian bus industry

Flashback Friday: Bart’s Pioneer Motor Service
The pioneeering Nowra to Bega service about to depart


There were three giants in the bus industry is the early 1900s. Notably, A.R Penfold who founded Greyhound (1928) in Australia, and A.A Withers, another entrepreneur who went on to found Pioneer (1905) which ultimately was bought out by R. M Ansett and became Ansett-Pioneer.

Another giant of that era, who is probably not so well known, was Cecil Barton Haigh — affectionately known by everyone as "Bart". Haigh was very much an entrepreneurial person who began his beloved Pioneer Motor Service on the South Coast of New South Wales way back in August 1929.

Bart was born in Bega in the year 1900. He married twice and died on December 1, 1957 at Randwick in Sydney. Bart was the son of William Richard (Bill) Haigh who belonged to a family of coach builders, blacksmiths and horse trainers.

Bart could see the need for reliable coach transport to carry tourists to and from the far south coast of New South Wales.

The once promised railway for the south coast town of Bega never came, and Bart in his wisdom thought something should be done about it.

So Bart joined forces with two other entrepreneurs Ken Lymbery and Alf Gyde. The three men remained in business for a brief period until Ken and Alf sold out to Bart. So Bart was in for the long haul. In those early days, Haigh operated a mixed bag of secondhand vehicles including five and seven seater cars which included Packards, Hudsons and T Model Fords.

The initial service commenced with the seven seaters and ran from the Bomaderry Railway Station and serviced the townships of Tilba Tilba, Central Tilba, Bermagui, Cobargo and Bega. In 1946 the Bega to Eden service was purchased from Edwards Bus Service.

At this time however, the Northern end of the South Coast of New South Wales was served by two operators — Harrison’s Motor Service and Bartlett’s Bus Service. Under Bart Haigh’s direction Pioneer Motor Service favoured Ford vehicles in general — which he ran on the roads from the early 30’s until the late 40’s.


Move from 12 to 15 seaters

By this time, the early vehicles increased in size from 12 to 15 seats (Parlour Car style units), with through bench type seats and numerous doors along the side. In the 1940s he changed to an aisle type vehicle with one front door and ... wait for it ... all luggage was located on the roof.

In the early 50s he switched stables and purchased Internationals, which he operated on regular services until he passed away. Bart’s cousin, Bert worked in the booking office rounding up passengers from their homes for the 5am departure. It was Bert’s job to make the passengers a cup of tea at 4.30am, to perhaps "soften them up" to face the 170 miles (274 kilometres) of terrible roads between Bega and Nowra where they connected with the train to Sydney.

The roads really were terrible. In dry times passengers suffered dust all the way and after rain there was mud, bogs, delays at punts and washed out culverts. On the return journey passengers lunched in Nowra, presumably once again to soften them up to face the return trip which ended about 11pm. Bart called his bus company "Pioneer Motor Service".

It’s a name that has carried through 79 years to the present day. The name Pioneer Motor Service epitomises the spirit of enterprise on the south coast of New South Wales: the Aussie way of having a go, of staying the course despite good times and bad.


Competitive times

The story of Bart Haigh and his Pioneer Motor Service is an inspiration. Haigh did however have some competition with the famous 1920s racing car driver Hope Bartlett, who operated a service between Nowra and Narooma. Bartlett claimed that it was more "nerve wracking driving the passenger bus on the absolutely awful roads than speeding a car on the race track".

Haigh was indeed a clever man and had an understanding of passenger transport right from the beginning. Despite the bad roads and the terrible conditions he developed a very reliable and well patronised coach service. Like many successful coach companies the key appears to have been running the business as a family business.

When Bart passed away in 1957 his widow Nell took over the business. In 1993 Nell was still heading Pioneer Motor Service at 78 years of age. She lived in Nowra and worked part-time in the offi ce. Bart’s brother Ken managed the company on a day-to-day basis for the family.

At one stage between the years 1935 and 1957 there were nine members of the Haigh family working at Pioneer Motor Service. In 1962, Pioneer Motor Service purchased Bartlett’s Bus Service from the John A Gilbert Group (formerly Reo Motors). This meant that Pioneer Motor Service now covered the entire south coast between Nowra and Eden with pick up and set down points all the way.

Harrison’s Motor Service continued to operate the night service until the 1970s when they decided to discontinue the service. Pioneer Motor Service quickly picked up the night run, leaving them the sole long distance operator on the coast. The company was very lucky to have a loyal staff, three drivers, Les Jennings, Sam McKinnon, and Harry Smith drove for the company for over 25 years.

By 1993 Nell’s daughters Helen, Irene, Carol and her husband Ray Kennedy did most of the organising but Nell was still known to have her say!

In 1993 the company had been going for 64 years and was running daily express services between Eden-Merimbula-Bega- Nowra-Sydney. One way full fares (in 1993), from Sydney to Nowra were priced at $ 15, Ulladulla $23.50, Batemans Bay $28.70, Moruya $32.50, Narooma $37.50, Bega $41.40, Eden $46.90.

Plus, there were discounts for children, pensioners and the unemployed. By 1993 Pioneer Motor Service operated a fleet of modern luxury Denning coaches, a far cry from the old seven seat Packards, Hudsons and Diamond T’s.


Move into Sydney

Following deregulation of the bus industry Pioneer Motor Service extended its services north to Sydney. The fleet then consisted of Denning and Austral Tourmaster 45/48 seater coaches with toilet facilities. Finally, in May 1995 the Haigh family decided to sell the business of Pioneer Motor Service to Nowra Coaches (owned by the King family).

The booking offi ce known as Stewart Place was immediately renovated to include a passenger lounge waiting area and a computerised booking system to replace the manual booking system that was used for the previous 65 years.

From June 1996, under the direction of John King, Pioneer Motor Service expanded its operations, so much so, that the company went from strength to strength. Pioneer Motor Service in that year purchased Kirklands Bus Service from Brisbane to Sydney.

The sale comprised three daily return services plus ready-made offi ces in Brisbane, Surfers and Sydney. Two months later King’s Pioneer Motor Service purchased Lindsay Brothers Coaches, who also provided a service between Brisbane, Coffs Harbour and Sydney. The King family’s formidable transport business was well and truly underway. But that is another story.

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